Short story: Almost

He pointed out a handful of small houses in the distance, noting the differences in the stone and the way they formed a semi-circle to greet the tide. Built in 1907, apparently.

Soon he looked down and apologised at the state of her muddy ankle boots. It was his idea to go this way, after all. Truthfully, she said she didn’t mind. A group of dog walkers in full rain gear acknowledged them cheerily. The coastal air hummed, fluorescent lights and roaring traffic pleasingly absent.

His energetic stride (it had always struck her as moving more upwards than forwards) was limited by the sticky earth. He seemed almost identical to the last time they had seen each other – confident but not quite at home anywhere. Curious and restless. They had said goodbye in a crowded station two years earlier. He must have noticed how she had changed – hair longer, shadows under her eyes probably darker, but happier, too.

Ten minutes in, the path gave way to a flooded track, lined with planks only just submerged in grey water. Like when you lie face up in the bath and dip your whole head under for a second, she thought.

Half-smiling, it occurred to her that this obstacle mirrored why their relationship had ended, not long after that train carried her out of the city she was so undecided on.

They weren’t prepared, and there wasn’t anywhere to go. They turned around.

The pair followed the sodden path back, past his car, to a pub he knew well and she had seen many times on the way to the next town. She chose a table while he got the drinks. The conversation continued, enthusiastic but cautious. Buoyed by an intellectual intimacy full of quick exchanges and recommendations.

They talked about his work in Dublin and her new job. Wasn’t it funny that she was back in London and he was living in Ireland? Almost funny. Her anticipation and earlier excitement were dashed with realism. This was not what she needed.

In the short drive back to her parents’ house, where she was staying between Christmas and New Year, a subdued understanding settled between them. They smiled and hugged briefly, almost certain that this would be the last time. As she arrived at the front door, she was careful to wipe the mud from her shoes.